A Phenomenology of Collaboration in Contemporary Composition and Performance

This thesis considers how collaboration between composer and performer affects the practice of these musicians. The established paradigm for the creation of new work in the context of contemporary classical music promotes separation between composers and performers.

Typically the composer is seen as ‘creator’, the performer as ‘interpreter’, and the audience as the ‘recipient’ of the music. This inherent hegemony creates division between these musicians, creating expressive barriers in the development and the dissemination of new work. In this research, the creative processes of both composition and performance are assessed in the context of collaborative practice, in a continuum where both composers and performers are seen as integrated elements within music making.

In order to evaluate collaborative practice between composer and performer I commissioned five Irish composers to write solo bass clarinet pieces for me to perform. These five individual cases provided an opportunity to examine collaboration in a practical framework. An integral part of each commission was the examination of collaboration through the careful documentation of the creative processes of interactive practice. Over the course of a year I worked collaboratively with the composers concerned in a series of practical sessions where the new works were discussed and tried out. A key part of these meetings was the investigation of various elements relating to collaboration, including notation, improvisation and transmission. A significant amount of data was collected in the course of this examination including audio recordings and transcripts of meetings.

The findings from this research indicate that collaboration between composers and performers can have significant beneficial effects on musicians’ practice. These benefits include increased motivation, creative stimulation, multiple communication modes and notational clarification. These represent some of the practical findings from this investigation of the effect collaboration has on the practice of composers and performers.


+++1.6.1 Introduction
+++1.6.2 Distributive Collaboration
+++1.6.3 Complementarity Collaboration
+++1.6.4 Integrative collaboration
+++1.7.1 Introduction
+++1.7.2 Collaboration in Pop, Rock, World and Jazz Music
+++1.8.1 Composers Collaborating
+++1.8.2 Composers and Performers-Shared Views


This chapter will explore broadly some of the definitions, theories, modes and concepts relating to collaboration in general. Specific aspects of collaboration will be examined in relation to arts practice and, more particularly, musical issues. These will provide a contextual framework for this thesis but will also offer a broad review of some of the literature on collaboration. ‘Together we create our futures’ (John-Steiner, 2000: 204).

In this, the last line of John-Steiner’s seminal work, ‘Creative Collaboration,’ we find a forward-looking statement that is characteristic of the twenty-first century. Until relatively recently the word collaboration had very little currency; indeed, it was predominantly used in a pejorative sense to refer to wartime collaborators with the enemy. Houston (1979: 331) notes the newness of the term, and observes that until the 1950s library catalogues had virtually no entries on collaboration.

Things have moved on considerably since then, with the term used ubiquitously today to describe all manner of interactions between people, in a range of activities, both professional and personal. Many work environments use some form of the term to promote a certain egalitarian ambition, usually associated with increased productivity or innovation. For each area a particular lexicon has been developed to express a range of interactions that resonate with individual contexts. In an era of the sound bite and the buzzword, we are accustomed to hearing about ‘joined-up thinking’, ‘mutual visions’, ‘shared interests’ and the like, which all refer to people working together. Underpinning these developments is a fundamental philosophical shift emerging in western thinking, moving away from the ideal of the self-determined individual towards a more collective sense of community. This is evidenced politically by the increasing development of partnership governments, many of which express ecological concerns that have a flavour of collective responsibility. However, as the concept of collaboration develops in western societies, partners are required to ‘shed some of their cultural heritage,’ including the beliefs in a separate independent self and the glory of individual achievement (John-Steiner, 2000: 204).

The overwhelming focus on individual attainment and personal creativity in the psychological literature of the twentieth century is still very influential in determining how our organisations are structured and how people behave within organisations. Top-down approaches are still commonplace and the attendant negative effect on individual motivation persists despite aspirations towards greater collegiality. We are in a phase of transition, especially since digital media have concurrently transformed communication, providing access for all in a globalised world. Whilst this shift is apparent, much confusion surrounds ways of moving forward collectively.


The word collaboration comes from the Latin collaboratus, past participle of collaborare, which means ‘to work with’ and which is itself derived from com (with) and labore (to work).

The Oxford English Dictionary (1989) defines ‘collaboration’ as:
1. Work jointly on an activity or project.
2. Cooperated traitorously with an enemy.

The Webster Easy English dictionary (2007) develops this definition thus:
1. To work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavour
2. To cooperate with or willingly assist an enemy of one’s country
3. To cooperate with an agency or instrumentality with which one is not immediately connected.

The difficulty is not in finding definitions, but in realizing a unifying or generally accepted understanding of collaboration.

Collaboration is an emerging and developing phenomenon and definitions by their nature can be elusive and perhaps needlessly reductive. Nevertheless there are a variety of different accounts of collaboration that do at least help to locate and inform the debate.

Himmelman states: It is wonderfully ironic that the term collaboration is not well understood because it is used to describe so many kinds of relationships and activities. In a way, it suffers not from lack of meaning… but from too much meaning!

Himmelman, quoted in Montiel-Overall, 2005a: 28. Schrage (1990) proposed a definition of collaboration as a process of shared creation, in which two or more individuals with complementary skills interact to create a shared understanding that neither had previously possessed or could have come to on their own; shared meaning is created about a process, a product, or an event.

Moran and John-Steiner (2004) comment thus: ‘although collaboration, cooperation, social interaction and working together are used nearly interchangeably…we hold collaboration to a higher standard’. They argue that collaboration differs from the daily exchanges that take place between people. ‘Social interaction’ involves two or more people talking or in exchange; cooperation adds the restriction of shared purpose and ‘working together’ often entails coordination of effort. ‘Collaboration,’ however, involves a blending of skills, temperaments, effort and sometimes personalities to realize a shared vision of something new and useful (Moran and John-Steiner, 2004: 11).

The mix of terms used to describe social interactions, including ‘coordination,’ ‘cooperation’ and ‘collaboration’ is the subject of some concern to Pollard; he regards this free alternating of terminology as being unhelpful, with the ‘term [collaboration] being cheapened… to the point where in many people’s minds it’s indistinguishable from cooperation and coordination, which are less elaborate and less ambitious undertakings’ (Pollard, 2005).

Thus there is an ongoing debate amongst a variety of commentators concerning an appropriate definition of collaboration and the particular practices that distinguish this activity. As for many social processes, providing a comprehensive theoretical explication of this phenomenon is challenging.


Definitions and theories of collaboration are emerging; nevertheless it is important to recognise the effect developmental theories have in the formation of social phenomena such as collaboration. Auguste Comte (1798-1857), who is often considered to be the father of sociology, considered the basis of human thought to be inherently social: No partial intelligence can be so separate itself from the general mass… The most profound thinker will therefore never forget that all men must be regarded as co-adjusters in discovering truth. Quoted in Sawyer, 2003: 123.

It is, however, the work of the eminent Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934), whose collected works were published after his death, that provides the impetus for much of the research done in relation to collaboration. His views, that man learns through social engagement with others and that ‘knowledge construction is a social, cooperative venture’, are becoming increasingly influential in education and the study of creativity (Moran and John-Steiner, 2004: 15).

Vygotsky developed the concept of learning as an experience that is socially constructed, with capable people assisting those less capable to acquire knowledge beyond their particular developmental level. Socio-cultural psychologists including Rogoff (1990) and Wertsch (1998) have built on the work of Vygotsky, and their research has focussed on developing methods for examining social interactions and processes. Sawyer refers to these processes as unpredictable and contingent, involving complex communication processes that are difficult to analyse in terms of the participating individuals (Sawyer, 2003: 122).

On the other hand, Jean Piaget, arguably the greatest developmental theorist of the twentieth century, proposed a theory of intellectual development that affirmed the importance of individual control. This concept-the individual construction of knowledge, best created by each person through the mental and physical manipulation of information (Snowman and Biehler, 2003: 47)-had a profound effect on thinking and social attitudes in the twentieth century.

However, this conception is being questioned in the twenty-first century. Commentators such as Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds (2004), and Gladwell, The Tipping Point (2000) have done much to question such individualism and to promote an ideology of collaborative thinking and practice. Although mutuality is gaining increased acceptance in various areas, many psychologists still focus on the biologically constricted individual, largely excluding the psychological study of collaboration.

There are, however, exceptions; feminist psychologists, in particular, have developed alternatives to the individually centred approach to human growth (John-Steiner, 2000: 188). Old ideologies of independence and autonomy are being challenged and a new vision of mutuality and interdependence is being advanced, spurred on by the work of Vygosky and the Russian literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin.


The literature offers various models relating to collaborative practice, all somewhat similar, with differences primarily relating to degree of intent, interest and involvement. The following tables summarize the different features ascribed to various interactive processes by a number of commentators including Montiel-Overall (2005b), Pollard (2005), John-Steiner (2000) and Hayden and Windsor (2007).

Montiel-Overall (2005b) discusses collaborative structures and proposes models based on a review of the literature; these are summarized in Table 1:


In Pollard (2005) the classification is similar to Montiel-Overall, with the types of relationships defined as coordination, cooperation and collaboration. He assigns various contributory factors to each type in relation to preconditions for success, enablers, impact of approach, desired outcomes, optimal application, appropriate tools, degree of interdependence and finally degree of latitude. This model is summarized in Table 2:


Vera John-Steiner (2000) proposes a form of classification that differs from both Pollard and Montiel-Overall, but the characteristics of the individual categories share similarities with the earlier models. Her description is less prescriptive, indicating that collaboration occurs in many guises without the necessity for an overly deterministic and rational definition. A summary of the attributes she proposes is given in Table 3.


Finally, some further categories of collaboration are discussed in Hayden and Windsor (2007). Based on the work of Argyris and Schon (1974), these categories were specifically applied in a musical context in a multi-annual research project undertaken by the aforementioned authors. Hayden and Windsor suggest that in western classical music the ‘traditional separation of performance and composition may promote a tacit limit on collaborations of a more involved kind’ (2007: 30). The categories they propose are summarised in Table 4:



The classification of different patterns of interaction as described above provides a broad conceptual picture of collaboration. The following section considers aspects of collaboration in the more limited domain of professional practice.

Collaborative projects often evolve with a level of richness that individual efforts could not achieve (McCoy, 2000: 38). The benefits accruing from joint processes are substantial, but the working methods associated require an equally rich and diverse range of skills in order to be effective. These skills entail emotional intelligence and substantial inter and intra-personal understanding. Personal awareness and attitude is a key to effective mediation, where openness, integrity and honesty are important enablers of the process. Clearly domain-specific skills are also important components in professional collaborations. For fully developed collaborations the level of interaction and involvement is substantial; this arises when people come together to share expertise in an effort to construct innovative ways of proceeding. Montiel-Overall suggests that ‘through the process of working together and thinking about how to integrate individual ideas a new understanding evolves that could not come about through individual effort’ (Montiel-Overall, 2005b).

An important component in developing these coherent forms of interaction is mutual understanding of a shared language, especially when partners are from different disciplines. Having an established and developed creative relationship can immeasurably increase imaginative discourse. Motivation is improved, creative risks are taken and the potential for ‘creative flow’ is increased.

This concept of ‘flow’ is usually associated with individuals in a heightened state of awareness, where subjective feelings of creative fluency and attainment of goals seem to come naturally. In his seminal work Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (1990), the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi proposed that when people are in the flow state, they are absorbed in an activity where action and awareness merge. Although flow can be achieved in individual experience, the potential for achieving creative ‘flow’ is significantly enhanced in developed forms of collaboration.

The study of group flow has been neglected by researchers and yet is clearly an important part of collective creativity (Sawyer, 2006: 158). This is particularly the case with jazz performance where musicians inspire each other to transcend routine practice and propel innovative action. Whilst this phenomenon is unpredictable and intangible the conditions pertaining to it are consistent with developed collaborations.

The author Elizabeth Creamer has studied academic collaborative processes, examining how participants work together and negotiate differences. Her descriptions of the steps involved in collaborative engagement are instructive and assist the understanding of potential routes towards effective collaboration (Creamer, 2004: 556-571). These steps are presented in Table 5:


The development of new and sophisticated systems of collaboration is being fuelled by developments in the digital world. The increasing availability of broadband connections has the potential to stimulate and support creative collaboration at a distance; indeed, the internet was motivated first by research groups wishing to extend their collaborations (De Laat and Lally, 2004: 127). This online world provides a complex matrix of collaborative possibilities which of themselves necessitate new modes of human interaction. O’Hear and Sefton-Green suggest that ‘learning is collaboration and collaboration is learning,’ and that it is impossible to distinguish between the processes of participation, interaction and creative activity. The future is charged with potential (O’Hear and Sefton-Green, 2004: 124).


1.6.1 Introduction

A common perception is that an artist is a person who separates the self from society in order to reflect and comment artistically on that same society. This notion of the isolated artist as a solitary figure is embedded in western culture and has developed since the Renaissance, when the emphasis on individuality and personal style began to emerge. In the twentieth century a focus on subjectivism and the rights of individuals underpinned western cultural values that promoted self-determination and individualism. This however hides the reality of knowledge construction and artistic endeavour in which relationship and connection is vital. For John-Steiner artistic forms and ideas are generated from joint thinking, significant conversations, and from shared struggles. She states:

Productive interdependence is a critical resource for expanding the self throughout the life span. It calls for reconsidering theories that limit development to a progression of stages and to biologically pre-programmed capabilities. The study of partnered endeavours contributes to cultural-historical and feminist theories with their emphasis upon the social sources of development, mutuality, and the generative tension between cultural-historical processes and individual functioning.
John-Steiner, 2000: 191.

Many artists have long since recognised the significance of interaction and interdependence as important indicators of creative growth and development of form. Even iconoclastic figures including Samuel Beckett and John Cage understood the importance of the collective; although considered profoundly individualistic and original, their work was influenced, enhanced and developed through their ongoing involvement with other artists. Artistic endeavour is inherently referential, responsive and social. Indeed, the transformation of forms and creative domains depends on joint investigation and the recognition of the interrelatedness of mankind and nature. Integrative collaborations are at the heart of many significant developments in all spheres of life, including business, science and in particular the arts. An example of the transformative power of integrative working is represented by the work of the ‘Cubists’ in the early part of the twentieth century, where close working relationships between various artists, especially Picasso and Braque, provided a foundation for the complete transformation of the visual arts.

As John Berger has indicated, ‘for the Cubists the visible was no longer what confronted the single eye, but the totality of possible views taken from points all round the object (or person) being depicted’ (Berger, 1972: 18). In fact, Cubist art, with its multiple perspectives provides an intriguing metaphor for the phenomenon of collaboration itself, in which the individual perspective represents an inherently incomplete view; everything exists in relationship. The examination of collaboration and artistic partnerships has been neglected until recent times.

In 1981, the psychologist and creativity researcher Howard Gruber noted the paucity of research in this area. He suggested that far too little is known about how artists work together; collaborations such as those of Marx and Engels, Russell and Whitehead, Wordsworth and Coleridge, Picasso and Braque are worthy of examination. Gruber went on to suggest that it is interesting to consider the way people work together retaining their individuality while combining their efforts in something that transcends them both (Gruber interviewed by Gardner, 1981).

Gruber then explored collaboration in some detail in his work Creative People at Work (1989). The tension between individual ego and the collective is a recurrent theme of collaboration in the arts. As with collaborations in other spheres of life the variety and intensity of interactions in the arts provides a picture of a richly diverse and productive phenomenon. The following three sections explore specific aspects and examples of collaboration in the arts, using the typology proposed by John-Steiner in Table 3 above.

1.6.2 Distributive Collaboration

The level and intensity of involvement in working relationships is often replicated in the work that is produced. The author Paul Kaiser refers to ‘Conway’s Law’ to explain this effect; he paraphrases this law thus, ‘a group’s communication structure replicates itself in the structure of the works they create’ (Kaiser, 2004: 1). Various modes of basic or ‘distributive’ creative relationships are employed to avoid the breakdown of working relationships and clashes of ego. Such pragmatic steps are often the foundation for effective collaborative involvement that can then develop beyond the initial, cautious stages of ego preservation. Kaiser suggests that in the early fifties John Cage and Merce Cunningham engaged in these basic collaborative strategies, prioritizing separation in order to avoid fragmentation.

Each artist created his own part independently, often uniting their work only when it was almost complete. The overt explanation for this working method was, avoiding ‘the limiting preconceptions of the conscious mind,’ but the unstated motivation was more about avoiding clashes of ego, ‘a Zen-like approach of collaborating through noncollaboration’ (Kaiser, 2004: 1).

Nevertheless the influence of both Cunningham and Cage on each other and their fellow collaborators was substantial and profound. Both artists worked with many visual artists including Johns, Warhol and Rauschenberg. Cage’s ongoing influence and his challenges to assumptions about the function of music continue to inform practice both philosophically and practically. His attempts to ‘free one’s actions from individuality’ (Schwartz and Godfrey, 1993: 214) and the tyranny of the ego stemmed from a desire to avoid the subjugation of art to theories and individual emotions. Cage’s aspiration ‘that someday global humanity might live with pleasure in anarchic harmony – in mutually consensual, non-hierarchical enterprise’ (Cage-Retallack, 1996: xxix) represents an ideal that is consistent with the ameliorating effects of the most effective artistic collaborations.

Samuel Beckett, like Cage, had a profound effect on artists in the twentieth century and-again like Cage-shared his vision with many artists in various distributive collaborations. These relationships were influential but were also mediated with some circumspection, maintaining a distinct and individualistic integrity. Beckett engaged in a series of basic artistic collaborations in the form of his involvement in a series of livres d’artiste (artist’s books). These artists’ books contained text supplied by Beckett with images produced by another artist.

Over thirty books have been produced this way, with Beckett’s agreement and involvement. Dillon indicates that the most important of these collaborations is Foirades/Fizzles, the book Beckett published with Jasper Johns in 1976. Johns had asked for scraps of abandoned work to which he could respond. In turn Beckett supplied five prose fragments that preserved the essence of his craft in ‘polished examples of his severely attenuated late prose style’ (Dillon, 2006: 70). Johns’ images respond to these words with an equal measure of individuality, which for all their reflexivity, relate only obliquely to Beckett’s words. Similarly, Beckett’s oft-cited ‘collaboration’ with Morton Feldman was an artistic relationship of some distance.

Ruch has asserted that this relationship is often ‘inaccurately’ reported as collaboration. He indicates that Beckett and Feldman did discuss Feldman’s work Neither at its inception, but there was little communication between them during its composition. ‘While this seems a bit surprising, and perhaps even a bit disappointing, the numerous parallels between their styles and philosophies suggest that a more traditional collaboration might have been superfluous’ (Ruch, 2001). Ruch refers to their working relationship as more of a ‘co-elaboration’ than collaboration, a work involving two like-minded artists focussed on a single theme. Knowlson, in his biography of Beckett confirms the obliqueness of this artistic relationship, relating the conversation between Beckett and Feldman at their first meeting: He [Beckett] was very embarrassed-he said to me, after a while: ‘Mr. Feldman, I don’t like opera’. I [Feldman] said to him, ‘I don’t blame you!’ Then he said to me ‘I don’t like my words being set to music,’ and I said, ‘I’m in complete agreement. In fact it’s very seldom that I’ve used words. I’ve written a lot of pieces with voice and they’re wordless’. Then he looked at me again and said, ‘But what do you want?’ And I said ‘I have no idea!’ Knowlson 1996: 97.

Beckett did write a text for Feldman, but he was completely unaware of the composer’s music at the time this text was written. This enigmatic approach to artistic relationship is in keeping with Beckett’s art of subtraction and attenuation.

1.6.3 Complementarity Collaboration

Both Cage and Beckett adopted a pragmatic approach to collaboration, involving strictly limited roles, parallel processes and self-determination. This approach reflected the integrity and philosophies of the artists involved. Many other artists, however, have engaged in more complementary collaborations that involve a greater sense of mutuality. These relationships are characterised by joint exploration and the sharing of experiences and resources. A greater sense of ‘we-ness’ is involved, in which emphasis is on dialogue and not on simultaneous monologues.

The designer and director Robert Wilson and composer Philip Glass, worked closely together on the critically acclaimed opera Einstein on the Beach (1976) in an example of complementarity. They devised a basic framework of themes, durations and acts, but each worked on his own part independently. Ultimately neither the music nor the staging had to be subordinate, merely illustrating the other; both addressed and embodied the same ideas (Kaiser, 2004: 3). This five-hour opera with its plotless libretto and hypnotic music proved to be a huge creative success for both Glass and Wilson. Such was the level of collaboration between these artists that there is often confusion as to the author of this work, which is effectively an opera with libretto and direction by Wilson, scored by Glass.

Intriguingly both Cage and Beckett were major influences on Glass, confirming the overlapping nature of collaborative categories. Glass referred to these influences: One especially memorable experience for me was working on Samuel Beckett’s Play… Each time I viewed it, I experienced the work differently… Beckett’s Play doesn’t exist separately from its relationship to the viewer, who is included as part of the play’s content. The power of the work is proportional to the degree to which we succeed in personalizing it. Extending this theory into other realms we might venture that art objects only become meaningful when there are people to experience them. This was very much shared by the world of musicians and artists around me. Certainly I had been prepared for it by John Cage’s book Silence, which I had read as early as 1962. Glass, 1995: 35-7.

1.6.4 Integrative Collaboration

Integrative collaborations involve a deep level of understanding, trust and awareness. This level of involvement requires substantial commitment, involving prolonged periods of shared creative activity and dialogue. Often these relationships produce innovative works and methods of practice, and at times the domain within which the partners’ work is transformed. ‘The juxtaposition and joint exploration of ideas are crucial for constructing a new paradigm in art and science’ (John-Steiner, 2000: 65).

This level of understanding, requiring close proximity and intense communication and functions best after years of working together. Gilbert and George, and also Picasso and Braque, represent two distinctive examples of integrative artistic collaboration that challenged and transformed traditional arts practice. Gilbert and George (Gilbert Proesch and George Passmore) have worked almost exclusively as a partnership for the past forty years. Originally considered performance artists, they are perhaps best known for their photomontages. They frequently appear in public wearing matching business suits and are almost never seen individually. ‘For forty years they have maintained their seamless double-act, walking in step and talking in antiphon, all clothes, habits and opinions synchronised, all sentences prefixed by the regal “we”. They are never off-duty.

Even spotted on the top deck of a bus, they are seen waving graciously in unison’ (Leris, 2007). This repudiation of self, subsumed into a collective, is an extreme form of collaborative relationship-a self-conscious duality that is an artistic statement as much as a mutually conceived, integrated collaboration. Nonetheless, this powerful act of personal dissolution challenges fundamentally the normative individualism associated with art.

The conviction and commitment Gilbert and George bring to their artistic vision challenges the existing paradigm of personality and the separation of art and life. Green has proposed that their ‘refusal to take time out to be anything other than living sculptures’ is a strategic means of ‘shedding the traditional signs of unwanted artistic personality…and the limited horizon of the concept of identity itself’ (Green, 2000: 36 and 45). Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque worked very closely together over a number of years. Their work demonstrates how the creation of new forms of expression that challenge tradition thrives on the dynamics of interaction and collaboration. Their collaboration resulted in the development of Cubism between the years 1907 to 1914, and during this period their work was so intimately connected that at times it is difficult to tell one from the other (see Figure 1 below):

Figure 1: Picasso ‘The Accordionist’ (1911) Braque ‘Le Portugais’ (1911/1912)

picasso and braque

The two artists met in 1907 and soon developed a strong friendship, working closely together on their paintings. The following year the term ‘Cubism’ was first used, after an exhibition of Braque’s work. Over the next six years both artists worked very closely together, at times meeting each day to discuss and critique each other’s work. Picasso spoke of their relationship being like a marriage, ‘a kind of laboratory research from which every pretension or individual vanity was excluded’. Braque spoke of ‘effacing our personalities to find originality’ (Richardson, 1991: 236-238). Their collaboration changed the world of painting, initiating an altogether fresh view of form and perspective. John-Steiner makes the point that, the partnership of Braque and Picasso was an integrative collaboration, which transformed both the field and the participants. In such collaboration partners frequently suspend their differences in style. While creating a new vision, they can experience a profound sense of bonding. John-Steiner, 2000: 70.


1.7.1 Introduction

Music making is inherently social and lends itself to collaboration, perhaps more than other art forms. Elaborating on the roots of music as a collaborative social ritual is the aspiration and intention behind many artists who work in music (Weinberg, 2005: 23). This universal and fundamental human activity connects people across barriers of language, age and race. It promotes ‘positive interpersonal attributes and participation enables one to be empathetic with people of differing social and ethnic backgrounds’ (Madsen, 2002: 150).

At the heart of music is human action and interaction; Small refers to the act of music making as ‘musicking’. For Small the core of ‘musicking’ is performance; ‘it seems to me that the place to start thinking about the meaning of music and its function in human life is with performing’ (Small, 1995: 3). In a lecture entitled, ‘Musicking: A Ritual in Social Space’, he suggests further that music, and the performance of it, is about relationships, and that by taking part in music we have an opportunity to experience a richly complex matrix of relationships: The act of musicking brings into existence among those present a set of relationships…not only between the humanly organized sounds…but also in the relationships that are established between person and person within the performance space. These relationships stand in turn for relationships in the larger world outside the performance space…between individual and society, humanity and the natural world and even the supernatural world as they are imagined to be by those taking part in the performance.

Those are important matters, perhaps the most important in human life. Small, 1995: 5. With the prevalence of scholarly texts on all aspects of music it is easy to forget that music is essentially social, experiential and ephemeral. Certain forms of music promote the centrality of performance, in which the connection between reflection, action and interaction has an immediacy that embraces all present and thus promotes a collective experience. These forms of music include jazz, rock, popular, folk and many world traditions in which transmission is primarily concerned with social interaction, collaboration and communication. This art of communication is about community and familiar expression, and identification and association with form is paramount. In such forms of music the aesthetic understanding between composers, performers and audience is generally well balanced.

Collaborative engagement is a natural process within which creative relationships are flexible and emergent. Roles shift and change, depending on context and necessity, and working collectively needs little mediation. These are essentially social and collaborative music genres where participation, however humble, is ‘interwoven with extra-musical activities and events and is part of the complex texture of life’ (Karolyi, 1998: 5).

In western classical music, however, the clear distinction in roles between composer, performer and audience has done much to inculcate an attitude of separation and distance between musicians and audience. The formality and professionalism that is often associated with this genre of music impacts negatively on integration. The centrality of the ‘musical work concept’ in this music does much to create hierarchies that mitigate against mutuality and these have a regulative function that informs our thinking about the music, its nature and purpose and also the relationship between composers, scores and performances (Goehr, 2000: 202).

However, musicians and academics are challenging this separation, and a new era of shared thinking and practice is emerging. Renshaw has suggested that: We need for all musicians (and managements) to see, feel, understand and have the motivation to explore connections.

These links between – (a) performer, composer and audience (b) professional musicians and community (c) classical and popular music (d) European and World music (e) music and other art forms (f) traditional sounds and music technology (g) interpretation and creativity (h) critical reflection and action (i) mind and body – all need reevaluation. Renshaw, 1995: 255. This changing landscape is informed by developments in community music and participatory music-making, with many music organizations and institutions increasingly promoting ideals of ‘joined-up’ practice through various strategic and policy initiatives. Reports such as ‘Joining-In’ by Everitt (1997) are providing documentary evidence of this paradigm shift.

All of this is in keeping with a philosophical shift away from the individualism of the twentieth century and towards an era of community in the twenty-first.

1.7.2 Collaboration in Pop, Rock, World and Jazz Musics

Rock and popular musics are essentially collaborative genres. In these forms music is composed, improvised, performed, assessed and discussed collectively. The focus is on social cohesion, cooperation and complementarity. Many groups engage in distributed (basic) forms of collaboration and do not reach levels of significant integration.

However the effect of collaborations on individual members within rock and pop groups can be personally transformative, as identity is often forged from socio-musical interactions. Many of the musical forms that are developed are structured in such a way as to leave room for individual inventiveness and reflect the characteristics of the individual musicians in the group. The concept of composition cannot be separated from other informal practices engaged in, including jamming, copying, learning riffs, and transcribing. As Green suggests: ‘Popular music has many individual songwriters, but nonetheless, their end-products are nearly always the result of a combination of people and are subject to major improvisatory changes by different musicians’ (Green, 2002: 44-5).

Tim Steiner refers to the practice of the rock band Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band and suggests it exhibited characteristics typical of rock groups in general: The band was essentially collaborative. Each member had a degree of responsibility for their own creative involvement within the band…What those players would bring to the music, besides their purely technical instrumental skill, was their ability to function creatively as individuals within an ensemble that was, in turn, forged out of the interaction and collaboration of all the participants. Steiner, 1992: 47. Although the majority of bands collaborate extensively in all aspects of the music, much of the time this does not lead to changes in the form. However, there are ongoing exceptions to this, where certain groups, working over a long period of time, manage to transform the genre.

Groups such as The Beach Boys, The Beatles and U2, have each developed new sounds and forms that have gone on to alter the direction of the genre. Such groups clearly engage in integrative forms of collaboration in which shared vision and interdependence provoke and shape the development of new styles of music. World music: Bohlman observes that defining any music as ‘World Music’ can lead to ‘slipping down a tautological slope’; world music is music we encounter anywhere in the world (Bohlman, 2002: xi). Considering the social influence of music and its cultural value leads inevitably to theories about the origins of music (Blacking, 1973). Music exists in all societies, and it reflects the relationships within those societies. Levels of collaborative musical activity hence vary from culture to culture.

However, in many parts of the world, music is primarily concerned with the collective and with enabling individuals to come together in communal expression. It is often not ‘art’ music, ‘to which one listens in a concert performance engulfed in private reverie’ (Karolyi, 1998: 5); rather, it is functional and part of a community’s daily life and experience. It is therefore intrinsically collaborative, with the nature of the collaborations reflecting the society’s cultural heritage. Ethnomusicologist Ernest Brown gives an example of collaborative music making when discussing music from the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa: The music depends upon interaction and cooperation between a large number of people who make a whole. It’s a kind of indivisible whole that they create. When you listen to the music you can’t very easily pick out the individual parts, but it is the whole that makes an impression upon you. And their society is the same way. That is, you won’t survive in that environment unless you cooperate and work together very closely in a coordinated way with other people. Hast, Cowdery and Scott, 1999: 6-7.

Similarly, social interaction and collaboration is important in the music of the Ganga and Becarac of the Bosnian Highlands and also in music from the Tuvan landscape; interaction, communication and coordination of effort are key. Despite a long history of music making within these communities, the aspiration is rarely towards transformation of musical forms or artistic statements; rather, the prevailing imperative is towards social cohesion and communal expression. This often comes about through coordination of effort and clear role distinction. Objectively this can appear as though the level and intensity of collaborative engagement is developmentally basic.

However, as music is such an integrated form of community expression in many of these settings, the necessity for ritual and personal transformation predominates, with music a means and not an end. Jazz: Not unlike the term ‘World Music’, ‘jazz’ also carries with it the weight of many possible interpretations. ‘Every single person who is acquainted with jazz has a different interpretation of what it is and what it should be… it’s a barometer of the age’ (Guy, quoted in Peterson, 2006: 124). Nonetheless, jazz has had an enormous influence throughout the world of music. For a western musician, perhaps the greatest gift of jazz was to ‘revive something almost extinct in occidental music: it reminded him that performing music and creating music are not necessarily separate acts’ (Bailey, 1992: 48). Indeed, jazz is intrinsically collaborative in all its guises, from structural considerations to social interaction and audience reception. All manner of collaborative forms are manifest in this genre.

Seddon refers to some of these layers of engagement: Instructional modes are adopted during the rehearsal of a piece…Cooperational modes are adopted when developing the cohesive nature of a piece and collaborative modes are adopted for developing creative aspects of the piece. Seddon, 2004: 75. Collaboration in jazz can be manifested in the following ways: (a) the coordination of individuals’ effort to attend to particular functions, such as rhythmic support, melodic accompaniment, or soloing; (b) working cooperatively to share knowledge and solve musical problems; (c) effecting the transformation and development of innovative musical forms through integrative collaboration, such as the involvement of Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie in the creation of be-bop. Such interactions are embedded in the musical structures of much jazz performance. ‘These structures are rarely created by an individual performer; most structures are collective group products’ (Sawyer, 1999: 192-205).

Although established forms (usually AABA or ABAC) can set up a clearly coordinated structure, once these formalised sections are played, there follows more ‘open’ sections that give an opportunity for a more complementary type of musical engagement. These improvised sections encourage mutuality whilst allowing for individual recognition. Finally, when a group of experienced musicians have worked collaboratively over a long period of time the potential for even greater integration of ideas can lead to major musical innovation that can move the tradition forward. Hargreaves has suggested that: At its highest level, with expert performers who know one another well, and when the conditions are right, the group can take on an identity which is more than the sum of the parts: a kind of group Gestalt or musical mind is created in which the individuals’ contributions are fused. Hargreaves, 1999: 205-7.

Over the history of jazz, developments have been spurred on by significant collaborative integration, where musicians have been propelled towards innovation through interactional synchrony.


Western classical music represents an enormous creative achievement for mankind. With a repository of outstanding musical works, this genre is exemplified by a tradition of creative innovation over millennia. There exists in excess of ten centuries of written music from which to derive the vast substance of the western classical music tradition.

It is easy to forget that, within this tradition, contemporary practice represents a small fraction of the overall historical panoply. Scott has noted that since the nineteenth century the history of music has been assessed with a particularly romantic tinge, with emphasis on ‘the composition in itself and its place in an autonomous musical process’ (Scott, 2000: 5). But this understanding, awareness and attitude towards practice are constructs that may not epitomise or characterize wider historical context. Our cultural values and commentators condition how we think of music. As Hargreaves has suggested, ‘musical practices are strongly influenced by the social and cultural frames within which they take place’ (Hargreaves, 1999: 206).

The promotion of classical music as ‘high art’ is, historically speaking, a relatively recent phenomenon which promotes separation and exclusivity. This construct, with its focus on historical artefacts (scores), has emerged in the past two centuries and is linked to many socio-cultural factors and attitudes that include work and productivity, scientific determinism, and the centrality of the individual creator.

It was not always thus. The separation that has emerged, especially between composer and performer, and extending to audience, is relatively new. Small writes that: The subservience of the performer to the composer and to the score is a comparatively recent phenomenon. Until the end of the eighteenth century the ability to extemporise was an essential element of the skills of any musician. The great composers of the past up to the time of Beethoven saw themselves not just as composers but also as working musicians, whose duties centred on performance. Small, 1994: 285. Small later proposes four critical disjunctions in classical music of the twentieth century, which set it apart from previous centuries. ‘These disjunctions are: between creator and performer, between producer and consumer, between classical and vernacular traditions and between composer and his potential audience’ (1994: 343).

At the heart of these disjunctions lies ‘the ontological status of musical works’ (Benson, 2003: xii). The hierarchical promotion of product over process and works over performance does little to enhance collaboration in classical music. Benson’s suggestion that all music-making is ‘fundamentally improvisational’ seems worthy of philosophical consideration and might well help reduce attitudes of separation between composers and performers. He makes the point that: Even though the intentions of composers can be known (at least to some extent) and should be respected, composers are not the only participants in the musical dialogue who have intentions, nor do their intentions necessarily trump the intentions of all other participants.

Moreover there may be different ways of respecting those intentions. Benson, 2003: xii. For Korsyn, commenting on musical research, the same separation and fragmentation exists between communities of interest in musical scholarship. He talks of music scholars ‘being stranded in different linguistic universes’ even when talking about the same music. He proposes that we work towards a more collective vision of the future, where we can ‘imagine new forms of community among musical scholars’. He echoes the comments of Benson, by suggesting we expose ‘the violence with which individuals and groups police their thought’. He goes on to recommend that we should engage in play and invention, acknowledge the need for fantasy and discover ways of dealing with music that resists institutionalization (Korsyn, 2003: 10). The promotion of specialisms is inherently limiting and creates an element of tunnel vision in creative thinking. It provides ready-made structures for individuals and groups to withdraw from invention and innovation, with increasing specificity applied to individual craft. For some performers specialisation encourages a mentality that is creatively limiting, even amongst experienced musicians.

Karttunen (1999) observes, ‘the role of the instrumentalist may be important’ but it is rarely that of a creator. He suggests that in such circumstances the performer’s role is to provide solutions to ideas that have already been created (quoted in Fitch and Heyde, 2006: 1). The adjunctive function thus applied reduces the potential of a performer’s imagination and serves to reinforce the view that the performance is interpretive and not creative. The scored work is at the centre of collaborative separation in classical music, as creative intention is directed in a top-down approach. The composer Tim Steiner, refers to the domination of the notated score in western classical music, suggesting notation brings the power of literacy, which is the power of a social institution. ‘As such it has been exploited for its restrictive and destructive qualities–those that have led to the impoverishment of oral process and which have alienated the vast majority of our society from the creative processes of music practice’ (Steiner, 1992: 17).

Indeed, processes of orality are key elements in collaborative engagement across all disciplines, in that conceptual ambiguity can offer opportunities for collective invention and innovation. Kaiser refers to this phenomenon as the act of ‘talking something into existence’, a process in which creative work is developed through the ‘magic of description’ (Kaiser, 2004: 3). As Steiner proposes, A single composer, prescribing music through notation, will rarely be able to bring such a multi-layered depth of character and personality to music. The nature of fully notated music…is such that it forces the performer to function merely at an interpretive level, and to bring only the characters of their interpretive selves to the music. Fully notated music thus deprives musicians of a degree of the scope of their creative persona. Steiner, 1992: 46. Steiner is a composer who specialises in collaborative performance; as such, he represents a new wave of musicians keen to explore more integrative ways of working within the western classical music tradition. The prevailing aesthetic of the twentieth century prioritized role separation, often with very little communication between composers and performers. This situation is changing in the twenty-first century, with many composers and performers working more closely together and in the process developing creative and practical strategies for new collaborative processes. It seems likely that these new methods will continue to change the domain, as is typical of integrative collaboration.

Renshaw has written about this changing environment, in which performers and composers working collaboratively are developing interactive music processes that ‘bring musicians into direct contact with the substance and spirit of music’. This sharing of musical and human experience provides a powerful medium for self-knowledge and artistic meaning. Renshaw suggests the relationship between music as a medium and as a finished work of art is changing: In the past classical music (i.e. ‘high art’) emphasised the objective, ‘iconic’ value of the artwork, and lost much of its sense of belonging to a particular people, time and space. Music is now being used increasingly as a form of celebration or as a medium for personal transformation. This shift in motivation opens up different processes and forms of music…a balance needs to be maintained between music as a medium and music as a finished ‘work of art’. Renshaw, 1995: 254

In sum, unlike the other forms of music discussed earlier, western classical music in the past was not particularly concerned with social cohesion and interaction. However, there have been, and continue to be, many examples of effective collaborations between musicians working in the classical music tradition. These collaborations have often been between composer and other artists outside of music, but effective collaborations have also taken place between performers and composers. In the following two sections are discussed several such collaborations.

1.8.1 Composers Collaborating

Several composers in western classical music have collaborated successfully with artists across a variety of art forms, including opera, dance, visual arts and film.

Some composers have also worked closely with performers, but collaborations in this context can be more difficult. One possible explanation for these difficulties has to do with the production of cultural artefacts (scores, in the case of music). In forms where there are specific physical outcomes (film, dance, theatre, etc.), it seems to be easier to develop significant partnerships, as individual artistic identification with specific material products is more easily achieved. In such art forms distinctions between the artistic functions of the various participants are clearly drawn, resulting in possibilities for independent work within an interdependent system. These can apply whether a composer is working with an architect (set-designer), a librettist, a film director, visual artist or choreographer. When it comes to a composer working with a performer, however, the essential material distinctions become messier, as the disjunction between the media of sound and script creates challenges in assigning artistic equity.

We can easily talk about Elecktra by Strauss and Hofmannsthal or Agon by Stravinsky and Balanchine, but it becomes more difficult to ascribe artistic contribution when discussing the outcome of a collaboration between a performer and composer. This in turn, affects the types of collaboration in which performers and composers often engage, which are commonly limited to basic consultation. It is useful to review a few cases of composers collaborating, both in specific and more generally: Stravinsky and Balanchine: Frequently cited as a paradigm for collaboration between choreographer and composer, these two artists worked together over a fortyyear period, producing works that include Apollo (1928), Orpheus (1948) and Agon (1957).

It is clear that both men had a significant effect on each other’s work, although the inspirational foundation for their friendship was the influence of Stravinsky’s music on Balanchine (Goldner, 2002: 41). In making Agon, the composer and choreographer spent a good deal of time working out scenarios, especially in relation to length of scenes, with Stravinsky wanting durations to be prescribed ‘down to the last second’ (Goldner, 2002: 42).

Gardner suggests that their collaboration was so successful because of ‘their shared artistic heritage and [their] unique understanding of the connections between music and dance’ (Gardner, 1993: 141). Theirs was a relationship built on friendship where concurrent independent working and some shared ideals resulted in these important ballet productions. Nono and Piano: Composer Luigi Nono and architect Renzo Piano came together specifically to collaborate on a particular project. They worked together to create a purpose-built music space for Nono’s opera Prometheus. Whilst these artists worked together only on this individual project, their relationship ‘went beyond that typically found between composers and set designers’ (Sharp and Lutz, 2004: 200).

They sought to cultivate the potential for interaction between space and sound. The composer set out to subvert the traditional spatial arrangement of performers and audience, placing the listener in the central space and integrating musicians around, above, below and alongside them. Working collaboratively, Nono and Piano developed a ‘synergistic relationship where each art was informed by the other’.

As Sharp and Lutz suggest: Here architecture gives form to conceptual notions of time and space while addressing the pragmatic demands of the production, while the instruments of the musicians provide the inspiration for architectural expression. Sharp and Lutz, 2004: 201. Strauss and Hofmannsthal: The composer and the librettist worked together for almost twenty years on some of the ‘most beautifully integrated operas of the twentieth century’ (Johnson, 2006). Interestingly however, they hardly ever met and so their collaboration was generally achieved through frequent correspondence. They had angry arguments, but they retained a distant and mutual respect. Their professionalism and mutual aesthetic vision provided a platform for a productive collaboration. Composers and Film: Writing for film usually compels composers to bow to the wishes of directors.

Many composers find their ideas filtered through the director’s sensibilities, placing them in an unfamiliar territory of hierarchical subordination. This type of collaboration is not usually about shared visions, but about expedience and the demands of a highly commercialized territory. The composer John Corigliano describes the type of collaboration that is often a feature of this work and compares this to other types of collaboration, Collaboration implies equality, and I don’t think the situation between composers and directors is one of equality.

I think employee is more accurate a term. I don’t think it’s a bad thing, it’s just you have to know that. When you write a concert piece, the performers…try to do what the composer wants. When you do an opera, they half try to do what the composer wants, but the director, the diva…all have their views on how things should be changed because it’s theatre and they think that a composer is not a theatrical person; So they intrude on the compositional process…and don’t necessarily adhere to the composer. Unless he’s dead then they adhere to him! Quoted in Morgan, 2000: 49 Corigliano concludes his observations on working in film by noting that ‘in this particular profession, once you’ve finished composing, your input is not really desired or requested’ (Morgan, 2000: 49).

Composers and Ensembles: The composer Sam Hayden and writer Luke Windsor explored a variety of issues in relation to collaborative work in composition in an article entitled ‘Collaboration and the Composer: Case Studies from the End of the Twentieth Century’ (Hayden and Windsor, 2007: 28-39). This article is the summation of an Arts and Humanities Research Council award examining the interactions between composer and performer in the early twenty-first century. The composer (Hayden) worked with varying levels of interaction from ‘directive to collaborative’ (see Table 4 above for model employed), with a range of different musicians, including orchestras and small ensembles. From their experiences these authors conclude that however much integrated and egalitarian ways of working are valued, the composer is not free to impose particular models of collaborative practice on co-workers. This was especially true when working with orchestras, where it was felt that a ‘directive’ and non-discursive style of working would fit better with the expectations of the musicians. Hayden and Windsor also discuss process versus product-based evaluations of quality in relation to the various collaborations. During this project, they found ‘no obvious deterministic relationship between the success of the collaboration (as process) and the success of the work created (as product)’ (Hayden and Windsor, 2007: 38). They conclude by suggesting that an unsuccessful or poor collaborative process does not necessarily imply a poor product (work created), just as a good process does not indicate a successful product.

1.8.2 Composers and Performers-Shared Views

As discussed earlier, the relationship between composer and performer in classical music has a particular historical context that has tended to mitigate against developing integrated practice. Taking the role of the performer to be merely that of an interpreter and technician has wilfully promoted division, and has contributed to a hierarchy between musicians. This has encouraged some performers to take an overly literal approach to ‘interpreting’ works as opposed to animating music. The importance of creative animation and realisation is especially critical in the performance of contemporary classical music, as is evidenced by performers such as Harry Sparnaay, Steve Schick and Fred Sherry.

The theatricality of their performances has an intensity and imaginative flare that is beyond fidelity to text and is demonstrably creative. These musicians and their respective composercollaborators work towards the ideal of a gesamtkunstwerk [‘complete artwork’] that benefits from the diversity of participating musicians, ‘integrating the performers as co-authors, as people and not just executing robots’ (Honig, 2000: 167). The notion of co-authorship and co-composed works is not common amongst composers and performers, who continue to explore collaboration in a cultural context that encourages separation. In the future the delimitation of historical roles is likely to lessen, especially with emerging technologies providing creative interstices for methods of reproduction and interactivity. Despite the implied restrictions and the obvious limitations of notation, many composers and performers have managed to develop substantial collaborations.

Many compositions have been inspired by collaborations between composer and performer going back over the last two centuries. The role of the performer in these collaborations has often been overlooked and comment on these works has tended to focus primarily on the finished product and not the process that engendered the work. The subsidiary place of performers in some scholarly comment in no way reflects the true importance of the collaborative nature of the work. Many of these interactions and relationships were in effect ‘complementary’ collaborations, where discipline-knowledge and clear division of labour helped enable these artists to work together. However these relationships are often reported with the performer being a secondary contributor, reactive to the composer’s already formed plan and not a generator of creative musical material. Brahms’ collaboration with the violinist Joachim is an example of a composer and performer working closely together.

They shared a life-long friendship and an important artistic relationship. Brahms worked closely with Joachim especially whilst composing the violin concerto and in performance the violinist often took a liberal and creative approach to the performance of this work (Lawson, 2002: 4). The repertoire for the clarinet includes particularly good examples of collaboration between composers and performers, even if these collaborations were often distant and cooperative rather than fully integrated collaborations. Pamela Weston notes the importance of clarinet virtuosi working with composers in the development of the repertoire. These collaborations include, Carl Stamitz and Joseph Beer, Mozart and Anton Stadler, Spohr and Simon Hermstedt, Weber and Heinrich Baermann and Brahms and Richard Muhlfeld (Weston, 1995: 92).

In the twentieth century a number of other clarinet virtuosi developed relationships with composers that resulted in an enormous contribution to the repertoire. For example, the English clarinettist Frederick Thurston greatly influenced composers, with works by Rawsthorne, Lutyens, Maconchy, Arnold and Howells dedicated to him. Thea King, who was married to Thurston, also worked closely with English composers, and she was the dedicatee of many other works by them. Perhaps the most famous of all clarinettist-composer collaborations is the ongoing relationship between Karlheinz Stockhausen and Suzanne Stephens. This collaboration spans over thirty years from the early 1970s to the present, and it has generated many substantial clarinet works including Harlekin (1975), Amour (1976) and Tierkreis (1981). These works and others by Stockhausen have been developed and informed by the many close personal and working relationships between Stockhausen and his extended ‘creative’ family. Suzanne Stephens has been his partner for over thirty years and clearly the intimacy of this familial relationship has affected the type of artistic collaboration they have enjoyed. The greater degree of intensity and the shifting levels of independence, dependence and interdependence add powerful dimensions to such ‘familial’ collaborations, as summarized in Table 3.

Harry Sparnaay, the acclaimed bass clarinettist, has had over 500 new works written for him. He has worked closely with many composers over the past 35 years, including Berio, Feldman, Ferneyhough, Lachenmann, Xenakis and Isang Yun. In a recent e-mail discussion, I asked Sparnaay a series of questions relating to his experience of collaborations with composers. The transcript of this discussion is included in Appendix A. He makes some interesting and witty points, noting for example his regret that he always told composers that everything was possible on the bass clarinet: The biggest mistake I made in my life was telling composers, when they asked me ‘what is possible’ on the bass clarinet…telling them ‘everything’. Sometimes they think that when you include all the impossibilities in the piece, it will be a great piece. A big misunderstanding! Sparnaay: 2007

In relation to the effect collaboration has on a performer’s practice, Sparnaay comments simply that ‘for me personally it’s very important what I feel for the composer as a person too. When he is a very nice guy I’m willing to give more than for a terrible person’! Interestingly, in a parallel e-mail correspondence on collaboration the American composer Tom Johnson remarked that as a result of Sparnaay’s friendliness and openness he ‘always managed to accept the composers’ conditions, and the composers always managed to accept his conditions’ which resulted in a large body of stimulating music being created (Johnson, 2006). Researchers are increasingly examining relationships between composers and performers with a view to developing more integrated ways of generating and realising new music. Some of these researchers, including Goss and Leathwood, Fitch and Heyde, and also Frisk and Ostersjo, have written about their experiences with collaboration. Composer Stephen Goss has worked with the guitarist Jonathan Leathwood over a number of years, the culmination of this being the composition, performance and recording of a substantial piece, Oxen of the Sun, for both ten-string and six-string guitar played by the same player. ‘Through the collaboration we gradually uncovered a wide palette of new textures, techniques and colours, many of which found their way into the final version of the piece’ (Goss, 2006).

Both Leathwood and Goss have described this collaboration as vital to the music. They worked in face-to-face meetings and also through e-mail on a daily basis during the writing process. When the composition was complete, Leathwood revealed that, as a result of the collaboration, he felt free to play with the musical gestures and to take risks without needing to ask the composer’s permission (Goss-Leathwood, 2007). He does, however, note also the difficulty of disseminating new work that has involved so much collaboration between composer and performer, where ultimately the fixity of notation seems intractable. In a joint conference paper given by Goss and Leathwood, the guitarist concludes by reflecting on collaboration thus: Can one analyse a collaborative process with any rigour? As a reflective performer, I am surprised to discover that for me, the collaborative process is the last bastion of the purely instinctive. Some things grow best in the dark. And yet some kind of reflection is necessary. I have discovered…what the collaborative process is not: it is not tampering with a pristine original. It is not transcription, because that always aims to leave the character of the music untouched… Is it composing? Many of the best collaborative performers are composers’ manqués. It may well be that any score is not only a poor translation of a composer’s inner imaginings, but also something incomplete.

Those inner imaginings may not take the form of an imaginary performance but something slightly more abstract: something ready to explode into performance. In that case the performer has the job of completing the composition, even if they think of it as merely interpreting. Goss and Leathwood, 2007: 7. Fabrice Fitch (composer) and Neil Heyde (cellist) worked closely together on a solo cello work, Per Serafino Calbarsi I: Le songe de panurge. In their collaborative article, ‘“Recercar” – The Collaborative Process as Invention’ (Fitch and Heyde, 2006), they discuss many of the issues germane to collaborative practice between composer and performer. In particular they refer to notation as one of the most pressing topics of collaborative work.

Fitch suggests that ‘the role of notation is constantly problematized’; –at times sound can mirror closely what is written and at other times sound and symbol bear little relation. He reveals that notational strategies adopted in their collaborative work usually followed the discovery of the specific techniques and the sonorities they represented. Heyde describes how the gestural quality of the notation became so ‘embedded in my consciousness that it seems a vital part of the piece’s identity…the piece was to a large extent discovered at the cello and the dominant playing notation keeps that relationship open’ (Fitch and Heyde, 2006: 19).

Towards the end of their article the authors refer to ‘the blurring of the traditionally clear lines of demarcation between performer and composer’ when collaboration takes place. The composer becomes an instrumentalist (albeit on an imaginary instrument) and, conversely, the performer becomes a composer in the process of ‘re-shaping the instrument’. This they felt was especially true of their collaboration, in which the performer took an equal role in defining the problems to be resolved (Fitch and Heyde, 2006: 21).

Both Henrik Frisk (composer) and Stefan Ostersjö (performer) are PhD students at Malmo Academy of Music, Lund University. They are currently researching communication between composer and performer and the social significance traditionally assigned to these roles. They have written an interim paper exploring some of their work, entitled Negotiating the Musical Work–An Empirical Study (2006). In this paper they discuss approaches to understanding communication between composer and performer and identify some key issues. In the course of their research they have recorded and transcribed many hours of video recordings of collaborative sessions in order to appreciate and understand better the multiple facets of communication. Frisk and Ostersjo discuss how notation has split the notion of ‘musician’ into two agents, namely composer and performer. They argue strongly against the prevailing paradigm of two distinct phases in the production of music, one constructivist (composing) and the other reproductive (performing). They contend that the construction of scored music consists of ‘dialectic interplay between creation and interpretation, in which the composer, at times, has to approach his own notation by means of interpretation, even during the act of writing’ (Frisk and Ostersjo, 2006: 2).

The performer, on the other hand, does not merely reproduce the notated work; rather, they consider performance to be a co-creative act, in which the performer necessarily makes crucial artistic choices. They also believe interpretation to be a part of both composition and performance. Indeed they make the interesting point that in pieces for solo instrument and electronics, where there is ‘real-time’ processing, the composer (processor) is making both interpretative and constructive decisions concurrently.

Towards the end of this paper the authors make the observation that composition can be regarded as a complex interaction between aesthetic and poetic processes and that performers may similarly be said to oscillate between these two modes of artistic activity (Frisk and Ostersjo, 2006). These musicians are currently working on a new piece for guitar and computer, and their interactions during this project will form part of the subject of their respective PhD submissions in 2008.


In this chapter I have given a broad overview of the concepts and practical realities of collaboration.

The term itself is multifaceted and has many personal and social associations. It is not necessary (or perhaps even possible) to arrive at a precise, all-encompassing definition of this phenomenon. It is however important to recognize that we are living in a world that is rapidly changing and is being transformed by multiple modes of communication. We have unprecedented access to knowledge, and our senses are constantly overloaded with information. Whilst this abundance of information threatens to overwhelm us, it also provides boundless opportunities for collaborative working. However, we need to attend to human communication as preeminent in an era where the medium threatens to replace the message.

Vera JohnSteiner’s embracing view of collaboration, and what it holds for us, represents an antidote in an increasingly virtual and depersonalized world. There is a deep paradox in productive collaboration. Each individual’s capacities are deepened whilst also discovering the benefits of reciprocity…this takes time and effort. It requires the shaping of a shared language, the pleasures and risks of honest dialogue and the search for a common ground. In collaborative ventures we learn from each other…we engage in mutual appropriation, we see ourselves through the eyes of others and with this support we can explore new parts of ourselves. Joining with others we accept their gift of confidence, and through interdependence, we achieve competence and connection. John-Steiner, 2000: 204.

My own research draws on John-Steiner’s invocation to promote human interaction and community. The process of my investigation drew on the support and dialogue of the composers I worked with. These collaborations were as diverse as the individuals involved and each collaborative venture had its own flavour. Some of these collaborations were more involved than others, but ultimately this thesis is about the story of these collaborative journeys. It is my intention to lead the reader towards findings that are suggestive and non-prescriptive and to provoke the reader’s own personal reflection on the material presented. I begin with the pilot study, with the composer Rob Canning that took place towards the beginning of this research and that proved to be very significant in developing the research framework.

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